Respectful Parenting is Exhausting

I just want to say that my hat is off to all of you.

I mean it.

Parenting is hard. It’s relentless and it’s ongoing, and as Magda said, it’s an impossible task.

And you’re doing it in the middle of a pandemic.

I know, I know…the pandemic is old hat by now…we’ve been cooped up for 5 months, so this feels normal now, but it’s just a little extra. It’s homeschooling and podding (or not podding) and instacarting and wearing masks and zooming and reading and wondering and worrying and waiting for it all to actually get back to normal.

And I have to ask…does it ever feel like practicing RIE® makes things feel a little…harder? I mean, RIE’s goal (and my goal) is to make this whole parenting thing a little easier, where possible…but respectful parenting actually is a little harder than mainstream parenting, or it can feel like it, right? Have you had that thought? You’re not alone. Someone sent me this, this week:

You’re not imagining it…yes, respectful parenting is more work (I’m hearing a chorus say “I knew it!”).

It does take more energy (thought, time, and effort) to come up with respectful words. To slow down and wait when you’re in a hurry. To think of options when there’s only one real choice.

And when taking your child’s perspective and respecting their time and process, it can be altogether too easy to tip into the space of over-accommodating and letting your boundaries go soft…to wait too long to go to the bathroom because your child doesn’t want to let you step away, to take 20 minutes to get her into their carseat when you really just want to get going…or, well, I don’t want to keep listing examples because our boundaries are all different and can be malleable at times…but suffice to say if you’re doing things that make you feel like you’re taking second place in your relationship or making you start to resent your child, your boundaries may need to be assessed.

Which leads us to another way respectful parenting is harder…it asks you to pay attention to why you’re doing what you’re doing. Doing anything with care and intention requires more effort…and when you ascribe that care and intention to analyzing your own values, evaluating how you were raised, and trying to do the very best by your child…well, that levels it all up, doesn’t it? In fact, this one may be the hardest of all.

One of the reasons parenthood is so hard is that you’ve spent your whole life getting comfortable with yourself…so comfortable that a lot of your values are automatic, ingrained. But when you add another person to your life, someone who’s developing their own values and understandings about life and how they fit most comfortably into it…based on how you interact with them…it’s a good idea to take a look at yourself again, at those ingrained values and ideals and see if you want to perpetuate them or change them. And that’s not always comfortable or easy.

I also want to acknowledge that this approach may feel extra exhausting if you weren’t raised in this way. Not many of us were. And all of us have baggage…traumas big and small, cuts shallow and deep. We were all hurt somewhere along the line. But that’s exactly why it’s so important to keep going back to our scripts and narratives…to keep asking ourselves why do I feel like I want to say this/do this? Where is that coming from?

And here’s the thing…this exhausting practice…it’s not actually more work! In the long run, it really does make life easier. Well, okay, that’s in the long run…I guess I’ll actually say it’s more work up front but more joy and ease down the line.

Coming up with all of the respectful language does take time and effort…it’s something parents regularly ask me for help with. But it comes more easily with practice…I should know, I’ve been practicing my respectful language with infants and toddlers for 20 years now…I’m not better at it, I’ve just been doing it longer! But believe me, it will get easier…and by the way, it’s such a rewarding thing to practice because you get to hear those respectful words parroted back to you (…sometimes!).

And it may seem maddening to slow down and be respectful when you’re in a hurry, but as one parent said to me today, she notices that when she asks and waits instead of demands, her daughter complies (after a few minutes). Demanding gets her tears and tantrums, which actually delays her further and, and as you all know, there’s nothing more draining than a tantruming toddler. 

I think many mainstream parents might look at the above example as soft boundary-setting, and indeed, I think mainstream parents often do think respectful parenting is too soft. But if your goal is to have your child comply with your request, the goal is met, is it not? You see, RIE is about the long view…raising a cooperative child, not just an obedient one. And how do you do when someone orders you to do something?


Speaking of soft boundaries though, and as alluded to earlier, precisely because we focus on cooperation and respect, it can sometimes be easy to slip from accommodating into overly-accommodating. Indeed, sometimes ‘respect for the child’ is translated into ‘the child is in charge.’ But that doesn’t feel good…it doesn’t feel good for the child, and it doesn’t feel good for you. But the tricky thing about boundaries is that they are personal and unique to each of us. I can’t define your boundaries: only you can do that. But what I CAN do is encourage you to think about where you want to set them and help you do so. What we can do together is be vulnerable and listen to one another as we figure out if the values and boundaries are where we want them…to listen and look outward, and then think and look inward.

It’s important to me to emphasize that this is something that we can do together. I know many of you out there are hurting, are struggling…please remember, you’re not alone…we’re in this together. Yes, respectful parenting is hard work, but all hard work is easier when we share the load.